Offering solutions for the rubber industry in Kerala

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Helping the Rubber Industry in Kerala bounce back!

Summary: Rubber still has a future in India because demand is expected to double in ten years. Much of this demand is already being taken up by planting new rubber in low cost non-traditional areas (including high range tribal areas in the North East). In Kerala however, new solutions need to be found for small rubber growers who are willing to collaborate with other growers in the region. The Shramik Vikas Sangathan (SVS) the labour wing of the Aam Aadmi Party (founded by Gopal Rai) wants to help.

In Kerala, the issue is more complex as the cost of land and labour are relatively high. Also the planted capacity of available trees are older. This means that:

  • The larger rubber estates will over time prove uneconomical as the land they occupy is either reclaimed by the government, repurposed to more intensive forms of horticulture or (thanks to urban sprawl), used to house the homeless in Kerala.

  • SVS’s hypothesis is that smaller rubber growing holdings in Kerala may still be viable if:

  • We can add small scale manufacturing units (owned by small rubber growers and workers) that manufacture a variety of rubber products for in-state use or export.
  • Producing high quality block rubber through group processing centers is viable
  • Land can be converted to mixed use and high value horticulture included.
  • Kerala’s financial muscle and educational instructure could combine with Kerala’s remaining rubber growers to become a center of research, innovation and new product development that licenses know-how to other rubber growing areas.

Rubber has a future: Rubber still has a vital role to play in the world commerce and Kerala need not give up its historic leadership in the industry. Rubber is a flexible and water-proof hydrocarbon polymer that has a key economic role. SVS believes that it will continue to play a vital part because its main competitor, plastic is not sustainable. (Rubber when grown also produces oxygen and removes carbon dioxide).

  • Rubber consumption is expected to double by 2030 even though both India and Kerala will face higher competition. India used to be the third or fourth largest producer of natural rubber (NR) worldwide. It is currently the sixth largest producer of NR in the world with one of the highest productivity (694,000 tonnes in 2017-18). The production capacity in India is around 900,000 tonnes, of which around 75% is tapped. Out of the total area under rubber in India of around 8 822,000 ha, 614500 ha is a mature yielding crop. 

NR consumption in the country in 2030 is projected at around 2.00 million tonnes (It is set to more than double in ten years). It is envisaged that the domestic production is able to meet at least 75% of the NR requirement in 2030. In order to attain the projected production, average annual new planting and replanting would be to the tune of at least 8,000 ha and 10,000 ha respectively. Efforts would be made to get all the available mature areas under rubber tapped.

Production will shift away from Kerala which must focus on value adding to the market: Ten years ago, Kerala accounted for 90 percent of Indian NR production. Today the traditional rubber-growing states Kerala and Tamil Nadu account for 81% of production. Major non-traditional rubber growing regions are emerging. These are the North Eastern states of Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Sheet rubber is the most preferred form of processing accounting for around 70% of processed rubber. Block rubber* and latex comprise17% and 12% respectively of rubber production in the country. 

Forty percent of rubber used in India is imported (India is the world’s second largest consumer of Natural Rubber): India’s consumption of natural rubber is around 1.1 million tonnes. Sheet rubber, block rubber and latex account for 47%, 43% and 8% respectively. Around 40% of the total NR consumption in India is at present met from import of rubber. 68% of NR consumption in India is currently in the automotive tyre sector. The auto industry’s consumption of rubber may drop as less people buy cars and opt to rent (with driver) as needed. New users of rubber may emerge as use of non biodegradable plastic drops..

 There is a huge export potential for rubber products in the country, which if promoted, shall indirectly increase the demand for domestic NR as also the export earnings. Export from rubber products was worth ₹ 20,915 crores in 2017-18. 

The Government wants to support rubber by helping to expand it in non-traditional areas. Greater support is expected from the Rubber Board in the non-traditional regions. Large rubber cultivators want to be able to develop rubber while also promoting other farm livelihood and rubber integrated agroforestry systems. Trials concerning the mixed farming of rubber with other crops have been taken up successfully in Thailand and Malaysia. 

Rubber policy is politically important because it impacts over a million small growers who are mostly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Globally and locally NR is largely grown by small landowners  and 91% of rubber planted area and 92% of production is in small holding sectors (below 10 ha). There are around 1.3 million rubber growers and 0.6 million workers in the rubber plantation sector in India. Labour welfare organizations like the Shramik Vikas Sangathan) are therefore very concerned about helping the industry in South India become more viable. Most of the growers in the non-traditional rubber growing regions are from tribal and other resource poor communities. 

Labour shortage of male/ skilled tappers: The emergent labour shortage, with inadequate numbers of skilled rubber tappers is one of the issues of immediate concern in raising productivity in rubber plantations. This shortage is being temporarily met by migrant tappers in the traditional areas. However, this will not be a complete solution in the long run in view of the area expansion in non-traditional regions. 

Cluster formation of tappers can achieve the twin objectives of providing regular employment to tappers and availability of skilled tappers to growers. Setting up of Tapper Banks as SHGs attached to RPS would be formalized and continued. Tapping by small and marginal growers who do not have any other engagement would be promoted as this can in turn enhance the viability of rubber cultivation, more so in the non-traditional areas. 

Greater Role for Women in Rubber?  SUnlike the dominant presence of women in the production and processing of tea, coffee and cardamom, participation of women in the rubber small holdings has so far been negligible. 

Shifting from Sheet Rubber to Block Rubber**:  Global composition of processed forms of NR is dominated by block rubber on account of its consistency in properties and low cost of production.Block rubber is more preferred by consumers/manufacturers leading to 80% of imports being block rubber at present.

If you grow rubber in ten acres of land or less and want to increase your profitability, SVS may have solutions for you. Please email Pravin J P Arapurakal, SVS's National President at

** Note on processing of block rubber


  1. Looks like a very practical proposal. Yet needs to be put into practice. People in Kerala needs to accept AAP

  2. Thanks for your support of AAP it is much appreciated. This is not a political initiative though. SVS is the labour welfare wing of the AAP.


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